St. John administrator, former superintendent are first two of four finalists

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 25, 2008

Payne has mixed reviews from two previous superintendent jobs


Staff Reporter

RESERVE- “What is it that is ailing us?” asked Jerry Payne, the first candidate in the search for the new superintendent of St. John the Baptist Parish, who was interviewed Tuesday.

Former Superintendent of Bogalusa City School System, Jerry Payne, 54, of Pine Grove, LA, went through a days worth of activities put together by superintendent search consulting firm McPherson and Jacobson.

Payne met with focus groups throughout the day and ended the day with an interview in an open hearing with the School Board.

Payne has more experience as a superintendent than any other candidate, with seven years in that position, and is the only candidate with experience as a superintendent in Louisiana. However, it is apparent his time as a superintendent has not always been ideal.

He was with the Bogalusa District from 2004 until his contract was not renewed after December 31, 2007.

“It just got to be really ugly,” said Personnel

Administrator of Bogalusa City Schools Gavin Vitter. “It was an immovable force meets an immovable force…There was a lot more personality conflicts with the direction the district was going. I think some of the things they had conflicts with were some of the personnel decisions.”

Vitter said the turnover rate was high under Payne and that in exit interviews a number of faculty and administrators stated they were leaving because of Payne.

In the end Payne, who is black, went so far as to file a violation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing the school board of discrimination.

“He handled the finances well,” said Bogalusa School Board President Mike Applewhite.

When asked if he would recommend Payne as a superintendent to St. John he simply said, “No.”

In response Payne said, “My system was in a much better place than when it started. I am extremely pleased with what happened.”

This was not the first time Payne’s contract as a superintendent had not been renewed. He was also snubbed after his 2002 to 2004 run as superintendent of St. Helena Parish Schools.

“We hired him and had about a $700,000 deficit and he came into the parish running” St. Helena School Board Member Rev. Elijah Harvey, Jr said. “He made some hard decisions.”

Payne also left the St. Helena Parish Schools with a budget surplus.

Harvey said Payne was behind layoffs of outdated veteran teachers who were no longer able to teach in an increasingly technologically savvy education system. However, Harvey said Payne also pointed out that the veteran teachers made three times as much as an entry-level teacher.

Harvey said he thinks he lost a reelection bid due to his support of Payne, however, Harvey was reelected in the most recent elections.

“I’m going to be honest with you, If I had a chance to get him back here I would,” said Harvey. “The truth of the matter is that Jerry Payne is a fine educator.”

His solution to the perennially below average St. John school system is a project oversight committee.

The committee would consist of a group of high-ranking administration officials headed by him who would work together as a task force for the school system’s most glaring problems.

“We ask the principal about his school and then assess it if need be,” said Payne.

Payne said that by using this strategy the Bogalusa school system was able to eliminate 51 deficiencies during his tenure.

Payne also said he would seek to bring together stakeholders in the community, mainly business professionals, to get their opinion on how the school can improve.

“In the end you have to realize this: it is a business,” Payne said.

Payne emphasized his fiscal role in turning the Bogalusa system’s budget deficit of $3 million into a surplus of over $6 million in only three years.

St. John’s system is twice the size of Bogalusa’s yet only has a budget of $5.5 million.

Another area Payne talked about was the role of mathematics in early education.

“Everything on math is built up,” Payne said.

Payne added that too many children do not build the good foundation needed in math in order to be able to progress in their later student careers.

“You cannot know math without looking at times tables,” said Payne. “It is not hard. You have to be committed to it.”

In the 2004-05 and the 2005-06 school years Payne’s district performed at a lower level than St. John by close to 9 percent in 4th grade LEAP testing and 3 percent in 8th grade LEAP testing. However, none of the Bogalusa schools were in decline.

In St. John over the same time period the number of schools in decline went from 22.2 percent to 33 percent. Also, East St. John High School was labeled academically unacceptable, a ranking reserved for the most poorly performing schools in the state.

Payne said if he were at the helm, a hopeful outlook for improving St. John’s test scores would be a progression of 5 percent per year.

“In places where you are at the lower level you have to push further,” he added.

For Payne St. John would mark another progression in district size. In St. Helena he had 1,700 students, in Bogalusa he had over 3,000 students and in St. John he would have close to 6,300 students.

Payne spent most of his life in the western United States where he received his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1975 from San Jose State University in San Jose, CA and his master’s degree in special education 1978 from Arizona State University.

Payne also received professional certificates from California State University Hayward in 1992 and Louisiana Tech University in 2004 and is currently enrolled as a doctoral student at the University of California Davis and Fresno State University with an expected graduation date of 2008.

Payne is married and has two children. His daughter attends LSU and his son is a student at Portland State University in Oregon.